The other day, a small circle of coffee-loving friends and I were sampling a delicious pour-over, brewed using a batch of freshly roasted single-origin Colombia Cerro EL Pital beans. We quickly finished the first pour-over and wanted some more, so one of my friends stood up and started preparing everything for the next pour-over. While measuring the beans on a Hario scale, he said, "I am not complaining, but remember when things used to be so much simpler, faster, and easier? Then, of course, I am talking about instant coffee. Just add a spoonful to your cup, add water, boom. Ready in literally an instant." That is how we started talking about instant coffee, and one of the most interesting questions that came up in the discussion was, "Is Japanese instant coffee better than the rest?"
We ended up brewing several rounds of pour-over while discussing that question, and today I am here to share the results of all the exciting things we found out.
Did you know that one of the first people to invent instant coffee was a Japanese chemist?
There are different opinions when it comes to the origin of instant coffee. It is probably because instant coffee, in its earliest forms, was invented in several parts of the world around the same time. However, many reliable accounts prove that one of the first people to create instant coffee in its dry, soluble powder form was a Japanese chemist named Satori Kato. Kato filed a patent for instant coffee in 1901 while working in Chicago. It is amazing that Japan has such a deep connection to the origin of instant coffee, right?
What makes Japanese instant coffee better?
Several reasons make Japanese instant coffee some of the best instant coffee on the market. Many people even say that Japanese instant coffee is as close as you can get to coffee brewed from beans.
There is healthy competition in the instant coffee market.
In Japan's fast-paced lifestyle, instant coffee is one of the best options to make a quick pick-me-up at home or work. To cater to that demand, many coffee giants in Japan have been working on making their brands the best. Whereas outside Japan, Nescafe and Kenco might be the only names widely recognized by consumers, in Japan, there are many different brands you can choose from: UCC, AGF, Doutor, Key Coffee, BOSS, and many others. Even non-Japanese companies such as Nestle and Starbucks release limited-to-Japan editions of their instant coffee. Even Blue Bottle Coffee, known as one of the icons of the third wave of coffee culture, has released its instant coffee, available only in Japan. There are so many options, which means that each company is constantly trying to improve its products to get ahead of the competition. The existence of an instant coffee association in Japan further proves that Japan takes its instant coffee business very seriously.
Japanese instant coffee has a deep flavor and taste.
One of the main complaints of coffee connoisseurs regarding instant coffee is that it lacks the deep flavor and aroma found in brewed coffee. However, the best Japanese instant coffee makers incorporate several ways to overcome this problem, creating beautifully bold, rich, and flavorful coffee. Two of the main ways the deep flavor of coffee is retained in Japanese instant coffee are as below:
Freeze-drying method: When it comes to the manufacturing process of instant coffee, there are two main methods: the freeze-drying method and the spray-drying method. The freeze-drying way is more complex and expensive. Still, it produces the highest quality of instant coffee, allowing the coffee beans to retain their original flavor and aroma. Compared to the freeze-drying method, the spray drying method requires the coffee to be treated at a very high temperature. The high temperature destroys the precious oil molecules in the coffee beans, making the final instant coffee product lacking in taste, depth, and richness. Most Japanese instant coffee, such as AGF Maxim, uses freeze-drying methods, which is why Japanese instant coffee has more flavor and aroma than the others.
High-quality coffee beans: I think most of us are familiar with the terms Arabica and Robusta coffee bean types. Most third-wave coffee roasters use Arabica coffee beans to make their roasts – they are of higher quality and are more expensive. Robusta coffee beans are less expensive but are of inferior quality, and most instant coffee is made from Robusta coffee beans. Nevertheless, there can still be a difference in quality within Robusta coffee beans. If a high-quality Robusta bean is roasted and treated well, it can still result in a great cup of coffee. For example, UCC has several quality assurance steps to ensure that their instant coffee is made from good quality beans. They also have the origin of the coffee beans specified on the instant coffee jar labels.
There is a wide variety of options available.
We have introduced you to some of the top brands available for instant coffee. However, it is not only the variety of brands that you can choose from; Japanese instant coffee also offers you many options in terms of size, packaging, origins, roasts, and blends. One of the most renowned products that is an excellent example of this is the Blendy Sticks by AGF. There are so many variations that it is easy to lose count: Cafe au Lait (regular), Caffe Au Lait (bitter taste), Cafe au Lait (decaf), Cafe au Lait (unsweetened), Caramel Macchiato, Espresso Au Lait, and the list goes on. Even when it comes to just instant black coffee (no sugar, milk, or other flavorings), there are many types you can choose from, such as unique blends, special roasts, etc. For example, UCC has sumiyaki-roasted (Japanese charcoal roasted) instant coffee!
Some of the best Japanese instant coffee that you can buy
Even after knowing the reasons why Japanese instant coffee is better, you might still not be convinced, and there is only one way to tell for sure: to try it out yourself! We have listed some of the best Japanese instant coffees available on the market so that you can make them at home and see if they meet your expectations.
AGF has other instant coffees, but this is the classic blend that makes unsweetened and no-milk black coffee. It is made through freeze-drying using coffee beans from Vietnam and Colombia. It is pleasantly bitter, deep, and rich.
This instant coffee from the renowned Japanese coffee giant UCC is one of their signature products. This blend was created through more than 500 tastings done by coffee specialists to create the perfect balance of strength, depth, and aroma. If you want a milder, less bitter version, you can opt for Blend No. 114.
This instant coffee has been made to taste as close as possible to drip coffee. It also has a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, and depth. Made with coffee beans from Indonesia and Mexico, this is a risk-free choice to go for if it is your first time trying Japanese instant coffee.
Since the arrival of the third wave of coffee culture, instant coffee seems to have taken a backseat. Even I do not usually recommend overbrewing your coffee from beans. That being said, I believe many coffee lovers might not have the time or the resources to invest in brewing coffee from beans. Also, someone who is not very familiar with coffee might feel more comfortable starting with instant coffee (but good instant coffee) before they are confident enough to go all-in with their coffee gear and fresh beans. I hope that this article can be helpful to someone who is curious about the coffee culture but has limited time or equipment to experience the joy of a great cup of coffee, even if it comes in the form of instant coffee.
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*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
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